If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice a new layout for the website and possibly a few other changes too. As for most of us, the past 18 months have given me an opportunity to think about how best to use my resources and share my knowledge.
Beekeeping has always been about a fascination with insects. I’ve been interested in nature for as long as I can remember, and having a colony of honey bees to watch and observe and commune with is an enormous privilege, and one which I continue to enjoy. I also love helping others to discover our incredible world that bees experience so differently, even though we are standing right next to them. It’s just one aspect of what I do though: I love my hens and ducks as interacting with poultry is another way to connect with something that sees the world differently. And during lockdown I have appreciated my garden and surrounds more keenly than ever before. Watching my garden evolve and grow is such a wonder to me, and seeing who visits and resides in my tiny corner of Sussex is woven into my daily life. This year I have watched great tits and goldfinches fledge from somewhere in my garden jungle, and the blackbirds who failed to produce a brood last year due to one disaster after another seem to have been at least slightly successful this year, with a spotty youngster hopping around in the garden being fed by its parents.
I’m always a bit ambivalent about calling myself a beekeeper as there is such a stereotypical view of what that entails, and I just don’t find any of it very attractive, especially as keeping bees is one part of many things I do to engage with nature. To name myself something more nuanced however just sounds pretentious so “beekeeper” it is. Post Covid, I do have the opportunity to slightly rebrand away from that well-trodden path and align myself more in keeping with my actual roots and reduce the emphasis on the beekeeping per se.
The Patreon I set up last March to keep me in contact with some of my former students has been a great way for me to share what I do and I am hoping to send most of my beekeeping over to this little community. I am still running courses, but I am moving more towards the wildlife gardening side of things, as to me, beekeeping is inextricably linked with biodiversity. This flies in the face of most beekeeping, where honey bees are prioritised, often at the expense of our native pollinators. Incorporating hives in to an environment can be done but the emphasis needs to be more on integration and provision for all rather than simply honey production.
I led an interesting walk on the subject of birds last week, to a group of home educators. I homeschooled my three children so it felt very familiar and very very different from talking to a school group. I was explaining how there is such an emphasis on feeding birds and about the same on products to provide housing for them, but birds need far more than simply food and shelter to be healthy and fill the ecological niches they have evolved to be part of. They need nesting material, and different foods depending on the time of year. They also need space and territories, and to be part of a food web. It’s the same for bees: they have to share a space and be part of something more complicated and balanced than the sanitised and structured existence we offer them most of the time.
As such, I am moving away from offering generalised beekeeping advice and trying to push water uphill in the face of standard beekeeping methodology. I am really happy to discuss topics and queries on my Patreon as far from it being the usual echo chamber, it’s a safe space to talk about what we observe with an acceptance of change and fluctuation. With my courses I am moving more in favour of wildlife gardening, and sustainable beekeeping will be an extension of that.
I have a group of four coming to an Introduction to Sustainable Beekeeping course on Saturday 17th July, and the family are vegan so I have been experimenting with cakes: here is a lemon cake using this recipe. I’m used to using eggs and butter but this has oil and uses bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. I didn’t have any lemon extract so the flavour is not very pronounced but it looks and tastes good, if slightly gingerbready. Next up is a carrot cake…